Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The redesign of the interior of Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall: Glass Boxes within the Ultimate Glass Box

click images for larger view
The new academic year has brought some interesting changes to the interior configurations of Mies van der Rohe's iconic Crown Hall, home to the School of Architecture of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
At 220 by 120 by 18 feet tall, it's sometimes been described as the world's largest single-room schoolhouse.  Still, Mies split up the space with subtle low partitions, primarily the free-standing oak panels that define the center core.  Along with the student desks, those panels were renovated as part of a major 2005 restoration, as well as the student storage lockers that also served as de facto dividers.
Now those lockers are gone . . .  
They've been replaced with twin, newly-constructed blocks of spaces along the building's north side.
No ceilings.  Boxes within a box, the new rooms mirror in miniature Crown Hall's exterior structure - glass walls within painted metal frames, complete with Miesian corners.
New Dean Wiel Arets and other administrators now have their offices on the same floor occupied by their students.
Previously, the Dean's office was in the building's basement lower level, where the redesign has been much more radical.   Ironically, as open as Mies made Crown Hall's first floor, the lower level was a rabbit's warren of offices and meeting spaces.  Now, it's a truer expression of Mies concept of universal space. Specifically, the Center Core was once confined to the area between the two central staircases.  Now it's essentially one continuous space that traverses the entire length of building . . .
Similarly, what was previously a sequence of closed-off rooms is now two open studio spaces, one in the northeast corner . . .
the other in the northwest . . .
What used to be the Dean's office has now become part of an expanded Graham Resource Center, allowing the library added room to breathe, and, as needed, fill up with more stuff.
The day I took these pictures, nothing was going on in the lower core, and judging from some comments to this post, that might be for the best.  There are reports that the space is an acoustical nightmare, loud and buzzy to the point of dysfunction.  Some students have complained that the removal of the lockers have left them no place to store their supplies.  The redesign appears to have become a lightning rod for those unenamored of the changes Arets has made both to the building and the curriculum.

One interesting change that may not be new but that I just noticed is the central staircases . . . the east staircase retains its original Miesian right-angled purity . . .
. . . but the west staircase, retrofitted with rails for a universal access lift, has taken on a curvy, almost Art Nouveau vibe . . .
A refinement of philosophy is encapsulated in these changes.  In place of Miesian reserve, the Dean has now placed himself in the midst of the students.  Hierarchy is softened, but remains clearly expressed - if with shortened proximity - in a glass-walled “almost nothing” expression of separation.
Less than a decade after its last major renovation,  the structure of Crown Hall endures intact even as its universal space evolves.

Read More:

Mies Resurrected - the story of Crown Hall
Crown Hall - Decline and Rebirth
Crown Hall - The Legacy of Crown Hall

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

what a disgrace...

Oralia Sankey said...

Now, that is what I'm talking about. :) Those are some fine-looking office designs, inside as well as outside. Avant-garde, yet layered. I mean, there's a fine line between being too sterile and space age, and these tread that line very well. Just what any office needs, in schools or otherwise.

Oralia @ C2C

Anonymous said...

While the new reconfiguration of Crown Hall is great, everyone should take some time to ask the students how they feel about Wiel Arets's new curriculum that has completely replaced Mies's legacy at the school. (Hint: it sucks.)

-An IIT CoA student.

Anonymous said...

The changes the new dean has made are terrible. Do not let this article fool you, everyone involved in the school is irritated and pissed off at what has happened. The new curriculum changes include final year master students collaborating with upgrades... where is the benefit for grad students? We will spend our time arguing ideal with someone who has little architecture education. The physical changes are even worse? taking away lockers is far from a benefit, where the hell do the students, who spent 40k/year to attend, store their supplies? We have no where, it sucks. Try and have class in lower Crown now, it is impossible. The faculty is pissed, boasting about having open lecture halls clearly shows how little informed the author is. It is IMPOSSIBLE to hear anything, especially considering one new "class room" sits between two stair cases, and the entrance to the library is now in the middle(6 feet from student chairs) of the space. the spaces on the end border studios full of students, it is LOUD. Maybe if the new dean was concerned about his new school things would be different. He spends the majority of time out of the country with his firm. The students and faculty have been begging for 6 weeks now to change rooms so we can actually have a class, and the administration fails to care. If I had not invested so much money here the prior year I would have left, and started grad school all over. TO future students, do not come, the curriculum has gone down hill, the dean doesnt care, crown is ruined, students and faculty are pissed.

IIT CoA Masters student

Anonymous said...

The last comment should say that graduate students work with undergrads, not upgrades, as part of the new curriculum...

Isaac said...

Hi Lynn, can you clarify, did they get rid of the oak panels in center core? That seems like a real waste. I didn't have that much personal connection to the lockers, they always seemed like merely a functional necessity to me, but the panels, they were actually a nice colorful addition to the otherwise purely white and black space.

Lynn Becker said...

Issac,

The oak panels survive intact. Only the white lockers were removed.

matt said...

have you ever even been to this building? i mean, judging from your rash factual inaccuracies alone, i'd wager to say no.

the office boxes have been extremely poorly detailed and constructed, and have no place in any miesian building, let alone the temple of iit's college of architecture.

this renovation took a building that was hardly usable by its occupants, and made it even less usable. the "universal space" on the lower level is a cacophony of voices during any type of class, meeting, gathering, or whatever else is intended to take place there. an unprecedented number of students this year have chosen to forego doing their work in the building at all because it is so unenjoyable and unwelcoming.

Steffe Harwood said...

As a recent graduate of the CoA I am very saddened by the recent changes to upper core.

The whole point of crown hall is to have a completely open space with no enclosed rooms. By closing off parts of upper core, the wonderful feeling of openness is destroyed. Dead space is created along the sides of this "Glass box" and more importantly, valuable working space is taken away from paying students and given to paid employees.

It sickens me to see the new dean act so selfishly. Students come to the IIT CoA to get the experience of working (or living in some cases) in the gorgeous communal studio space of Crown Hall. By closing off parts of upper core, the space becomes exclusive to certain individuals. It is no longer a space for students to learn and work freely.

These "Glass boxes" serve absolutely no benefit to the students. They are a sad and ugly interpretation of the frosted glass panels that line the exterior of Crown. Students should be angered that their dean would take away their studio space and turn it into his personal administration playground.

IIT CoA Alumni

Anonymous said...

Why is the author talking about the chair lift like it is new? It's been around for like 30 years hasn't it?

Lynn Becker said...

Just shows you how observant I can be. Sometimes you can walk by something for years - or, apparently in this case, decades - before finally noticing it.

Anonymous said...

Every one wants to be in Room 14 because it is conducive to learning (now that the weather is getting better)

we could argue if the changes as they are now (in crown) were positive or negative. However, change is good. Keep in mind that the complaints are are mostly due to the fact that changes in design are not complete (I hope). It is not the alteration in the physical building that I am worried about, it is IF and HOW they are going to be followed up and for the problems to be solved.

Even if we dont like them, I dont think the problem is of physical alteration or the 'facelift', rather the problem is how we arrived there. From a dean who came with a message of dialogue and spent a year 'listening and watching', no "dialogue" was permitted when it came to changing our own environment (or curriculum). if for nothing, it would have keep us informed of what's going on and made our complaints constructive.

I agree with the post above, for the tuition we pay, it should be expected to have some expectation. With the exception of the workshop, every semester there is a problem with something 'not' working right or not working at all. Can we borrow the folks who run the idea shop for year?

I'm not recommending anyone to study here.. it is just too expensive and you dont get the value for the money you pay.

Sadstatov Affairs said...

Shame on you Wiel Arets, but no worries, in six years you will be gone and this monstrosity shall be rectified. I don't know how someone that is considered an architectural theorist could shit on Mies' concept like this, but hey, it's your legacy. Personally I think you're boring and lack the least bit of creativity; so this move seems on par with your abilities.

As for those who believe that the masters students don't belong in class with the upper undergrads, you're right, you slow the 'upgrades' down. 75-80% of the masters students come to IIT with some degree other than architecture, so while you're studying liberal arts, the undergrad at IIT spends 5 years of strictly architectural based studies, get a clue. Even those with an architecture degree, it's only a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree, not a Bachelor's of Architecture, which is a professional degree that WE EARN that is EQUAL to M.Arch. So get off your high horse.

For those who say don't go to IIT, are those who probably don't challenge themselves. I can't speak to the curriculum now, as I graduated in 2010, but all I can say is, I know a lot of us who are doing quite well. You make your education what it is, seek out the professors that will challenge you, push the boundaries, challenge the curriculum. Take Takeuchi if he is still there.

Don't get me wrong, I have my gripes with this school but you'll have that anywhere you go
......back to the subject at hand and as the great Roger Waters once said.........
Tear down the Wall, Tear down the Wall, Tear down the Wall......!

-D.
IIT Alumni 2010

Anonymous said...

that curved rail is an unnecessary perversion.

Anonymous said...

Mies is rolling in his grave! How dare you destroy Crown Hall!

Steffe Harwood said...

To be clear, the curved rail only exists for ADA accessibility requirements. It is meant to be as low profile as possible, thus why people don't normally notice it.

Anonymous said...

I suppose this hostile takeover creates a precedent for other Mies spaces.

The big open hall at the National Gallery could contain marble-clad private office suites for the gallery director.

I expect the new director of the Farnsworth House might also prefer to have his office right in the house instead of in the visitor center. A teak cubicle could replace the missing wardrobe.

I imagine even the open plaza at the Seagram Building could easily accommodate an elegant pavilion to house a CEO, with a modest private garden and pool.

The possibilities for an expression of the new spirit of the age are unlimited!

Anonymous said...

Looks like I left right at the right time. What an absolute nightmare!!

I'd give anything to hear what great IIT associates like Ron Krueck or Arthur Takeuchi have to say about this joke of an upgrade.

I feel sorry for the students currently in attendance. Awfull....

-IIT B.Arch Graduate, 2013

Anonymous said...

The new interior configuration is disappointing as are the curriculum changes. Shame on the Dean search committee. I have stopped contributing.

Anonymous said...

...Mies must be rolling in his grave with the new layout. why should the dean have the upper floor 'studio'? it's the students that benefit from being in what really is the essence of Mies' teachings! what was done on the lower level is great for offices and the dean and those behind the glass panels must and should be forced to use the lower level and leave the Crown Hall's main space (which was always meant for the students!)and NOT the dean and his staff!! ...send them to Main building for the remainder of his tenure!!
Also, bring back Mies' original curriculum because it works! it is a program rooted in truth, it teaches students the basic skills of what architecture is all about and most importantly it teaches them how to think and solve problems!!

IIT CoA Alumni